Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

‘Lean in to the unknown’ for a creative

Senior Curator Human Biology and Medicine at Museums Victoria Johanna Simkin has found “the best of both worlds”. Credit: Museums Victoria.

Sue White, ‘Lean in to the unknown’ to find your way to a creative career, The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 June 2022

We may all still be living with COVID for a long time to come, but it’s only for a select few that their job involves gathering memorabilia about it.

Senior Curator of Human Biology and Medicine at Museums Victoria, Dr Johanna Simkin, is part of a team of curators who have been collecting stories and objects to capture the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the lives of Victorians.

“Items vary greatly from community and personal stories, such as the ‘I survived the great toilet paper shortage of 2020’ memorabilia, to the first Australian images taken of SARS-CoV-2…kindly donated by the Doherty Institute,” says Simkin.

Simkin came to curation via a circuitous route – she was formerly a biologist doing research. She says she never planned to work in a museum.

“It’s the best of both worlds now – making exhibitions means I still get to keep on top of new health discoveries and dream up creative ways to present them,” Simkin says.

Simkin recently curated an exhibition exploring discoveries of how microbes living in our gut impact our mental and physical health. Part of her role includes working with others from the museum team to think about creative displays.

“In the microbiome exhibition, visitors could walk through an undulating microbe-filled animated gut tunnel the length of their own nine-metre gut, be immersed in huge colourful projections, and play a digital food fight game,” she says.

While every day is different in her curatorial role, Simkin points out that cultural institutions offer a wide range of jobs.

“The museum is a hive of diverse experts in design, media, education, carpentry, digital, collection management, conservation and more,” she says.

Kate Tholo’s path to a career in the cultural sector also took a circuitous route. In the past, she’s worked on partnerships for the Art Gallery of New South Wales and had a stint as a music publicist.

“Though unknowingly at the time, [my career choices] laid the foundations to finding my niche in the traditional art world,” Tholo says.

That niche is a space where digital art, NFTs (non fungible tokens – the unique files that live on the blockchain) and traditional art mediums intersect.

Tholo, now director of Revolo art agency, recently curated Satellite, Sydney’s first major international contemporary art exhibition utilising NFT technology.

“Like most people in the traditional art world, it was the Christie’s Beeple sale in March 2021 that drew my attention to the NFT space for the first time. It was a penny-drop moment for me on the power of what blockchain technology can enable for artists and communities, and its potential to redefine the creator economy,” Tholo says.

Tholo believes the long-term connection between art and innovation makes its new embrace of blockchain technology a good fit. The shift will pay off for many creatives, she predicts.

“Because NFTs contain incorruptible in-built documentation of their origin, ownership history and transaction values, they provide the extraordinary ability of digital ownership and digital scarcity. This is a breakthrough for artists using this technology to retain self-sovereignty over their work, to build communities in new ways and to efficiently monetise their art,” Tholo says.

She encourages others open to a circuitous career path to “lean in to the unknown” if they find an area that “sparks something within them”.

“The NFT and Web 3.0 space is not just extraordinarily inspiring, it’s equally supportive of those looking to get involved,” Tholo says.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
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